Thursday, February 24, 2011

What's on the table?

Growing in darkness, it expanded silently in its earthy home until the autumn day when it was pulled and stored in coolness in preparation for being eaten.  Last Wednesday, it arrived in my veg box delivery.  A huge, misshapen, grubby, ugly lump.  Celeriac.  It's quite a humble vegetable, in appearance and in behaviour.  It takes on the flavour of other vegetables quite easily when they're cooked together, though it does retain a tiny vestige of its buttery light celery taste.  I peeled and chopped the entire thing, steaming it for a few minutes before adding it to Earth Casserole.  Tangy and raw, beetroot carrot salad was a perfect partner to this casserole.

We have devoured rice this week as if it's never going to be seen again!  Our meals have included:  beans and vegetable rice [full of broccoli and carrots]; a Daddy-cooked Sunday dinner of vegetable chilli and rice; and a massive stockpot full of chicken biryani [Iranian/South Asian rice-based dish] with red lentil dhal on the side.  The chicken in the biryani was the merest hint; we might have had two or three mouthfuls of chicken each.  It's more authentic that way.  My biryani recipe came from a Pakistani friend many years ago.  She used chunks of mutton, not chicken.  On the bone.  And each plateful of biryani boasted, on average, two large chunks of this oily, most interesting meat.  So I think chicken remains a nicely flavourful, non-sheep-or-goat-like alternative.  

For the biryani, you take ten to fifteen black cardamom pods (you can use green if you prefer but the flavour will be slightly different) and crack them open with a mortar and pestle, just crushing them lightly.  Add these -pods and seeds- to olive oil, a few chopped onions and some crushed garlic in a good-sized stock pot.  Saute all of this for two or three minutes, adding in about twenty whole cloves, also cracked and slightly crushed by the mortar and pestle.  The beauty of real biryani is biting into a whole piece of clove and experiencing the incredible burst of flavour that accompanies it!  If you like, you can also break a cinnamon stick in half and throw both halves into the onion mixture.  When you can scent the aroma of all three spices rising from the cooking onions after about three or four minutes, stir in three cups of brown basmati rice.  [You can use regular brown rice.  However, you'll only arrive at the true north Indian flavour with basmati rice.  It has a strong smell, different for anyone accustomed to bland rice but beautifully aromatic.] You can also throw in cooked chicken or another meat at this point, or chickpeas if you'd rather use them.  Pour boiling water over the rice and add two to three teaspoons of freshly ground [get out that pestle and mortar again!] black peppercorns.  For this amount of rice, I usually use about a tablespoon of pepper.  This makes it quite deliciously spicy.  "Real" biryani is very oily and quite strongly flavoured; in order to capture some of this, you have to overdo the spices.  Feel free to add more than the amounts I've stated here if you think it might be more to your taste.  I also add more olive oil than I would normally use in most dishes.  

What's on your table this week?  Leave me a comment with a description of a recent favourite meal - either one you cooked, ate out, or one that was cooked for you! 

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